Guest Post: QUESTIONING THE "PLUS-SIZED" BEAUTY STANDARD
Several years ago I was a scrawny little kid with very limited athletic ability. Two years ago, after a season of rugby which left me disappointed, I vowed to make myself a better player for the next year. I knew I needed to gain strength and body mass and that the best way to do that was to join the gym. I set a goal to improve myself physically in terms of strength, size, stamina and agility. What started as a means to an end had quickly developed into a passionate pursuit.
As I began going to the gym I became friends with others there like me working towards the same objectives. As we all began to see results I became extremely motivated to keep going and working hard. My workouts went from two a week to six a week within a month. My diet evolved from a diet of sandwiches and sodas to an extremely strict healthy diet consisting almost entirely of steamed vegetables, skinless chicken breasts and plain brown rice. Although difficult at first, the amazing results such as new levels of strength and beautiful muscular development had kept me going.
Although at times I felt drained, lazy and unmotivated, I never quit. I always endured and made no excuses. Even after long days at school I forced myself to go to the gym. Over the course of two years I had made working out a habit. From that I learned about self-discipline and self-motivation. With little to no exterior help in this process, I relied entirely on myself to stay driven to achieve my goal which was no longer to just become a better rugby player. My goal was now to become as physically fit and aesthetic as my genetics would allow. I was now bench pressing 225 pounds instead of the 75 pounds I started with. I was deadlifting 350 pounds instead of the initial 150. There was a constant sense of accomplishment. The discipline and ability to force myself to work that I learned in this process had transferred to many other areas of my life such as my education and other sports.
Unexpectedly, this passion had myriads of other positive physical and mental effects on me besides the ones I initially set out to get. Every day I feel superb, I’m in a good mood, I’m motivated to work and learn. I sleep better, I eat healthier, my attention span is exceptional, and my decision-making is wiser.
I did become a better rugby player, now one of the best rugby players on my team. But this is not the ultimate accomplishment. I accomplished something greater. I accomplished my goal of becoming a better person, of being able to rely on myself to work hard and try new things. I took control of myself and achieved greatness.
So why am I telling you all this?
Recently I’ve been enticed by several new campaigns that challenge the standard of beauty and bring awareness to fat-shaming, and encourage people to be comfortable and happy with themselves. Among these we see the “Dove; real beauty” campaign and the trending increase in popularity of “plus-sized models”. As much as I agree with the message in these campaigns encouraging satisfaction with one’s appearance, I feel like this very positive and empowering message has a high risk of being very misunderstood.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in the United States in 2015 is at a petrifying 34.9%. This costs taxpayers 187 billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, 2 out of 3 Americans are clinically overweight. To put this into perspective: France has an obesity rate of 11.3%, South Korea is at 4% and Russia is at 25%. Admittedly, a multitude of factors have led to the massive obesity rate in the United States and it is a very complicated social problem. However, the new campaign that is widely recognised by slogans such as “real women have curves” and “everyone is beautiful” is very misleading and could be contributing further to the problem that is obesity.
I agree entirely with the fact that fat-shaming is bad and that we need to encourage people to love themselves no matter what they look like as it prevents further harm such as anorexia, depression and potentially dozens of other risks. But it is ridiculous to say that fat is beautiful and healthy. It is very true that models do not represent the majority of the people in the United States. Excluding some specific industries, most models are very athletic and live an extremely healthy lifestyle to achieve their physique. When your average overweight American looks at these human beings who are far more attractive than them (due to evolution we are attracted to the people with the most favorable healthy characteristics), he or she will be disappointed with his/her appearance. This is normal, healthy, and is ultimately good.
We cannot give people the illusion that the fact that they are overweight or obese is fine. It is not. When people see models who are fitter and more attractive than them, they shouldn’t open up a tub of ice cream and cry about how gross they look in the mirror. They should get themselves together and sign up at their local gym and clean up their diet. If their financial situation does not permit, they can easily spend an hour a day doing body-weight exercises in their local park which also proves to work wonders regarding health and self image. As difficult as it is to begin working out, it is just as difficult to quit once you get hooked. If you manage to get yourself to workout and diet for a month straight, using the motivation of the beautiful people you see in magazines and movies, you will be unable to stop.
People can work out and can get fit. No matter how unfavorable one’s genetics may be, by eating healthy and exercising, significant improvements can be made. The men and women whose sculpted physiques have become notorious should not be seen as an unrealistic ideal that fuels hatred and disgust towards overweight people. They should be viewed as the ultimate goal. If you workout and diet for long enough you can achieve that look and level of health. This is not to say that everyone should do that. I am advocating a long process of self-improvement, a will to achieve the perfect physique through years of sports and discipline using the best looking people in our society as the example and motivation.
People should love themselves! However, they should by no means think that their unhealthy lifestyle is sustainable or fair towards everyone else that takes the extra step to take care of themselves and ends up having to pay for someone’s heart transplant after that obese someone has a heart attack at the ripe age of 35. Real women do have curves, toned muscular curves. Everyone is in some way beautiful on the inside but the vast majority most certainly are not on the outside. We cannot tell people that being too fat or too skinny is beautiful. We should not encourage people to blame their own lack of willpower on unrealistic expectations. Everyone can be fit, it just takes a little bit of dedication and soon it becomes natural and easy. These campaigns have to be rephrased to send a clearer message — that you can be happy with yourself no matter how you look, but if you are fat and lazy, then you are unattractive, unhealthy and need to consider adjusting your lifestyle. Adjusting it not for the purpose of looking like the models that you see in magazines, but to have a long happy life, free of the burden that is extra weight.